We, like so many others, have been experiencing an abundance of emotion throughout the past few months.
As a therapist, I know the benefits of emotional expression, and highly encourage it in my clients and my children.
Most of the time, emotions serve as valuable information and give us clues about what we need:
- Anger lets us know we feel wronged and we need to set or reinforce a boundary
- Guilt tells us we have wronged someone else and need to make it right
- Disappointment reveals unmet expectations that might need to be communicated
- Irritability typically communicates that a basic need (hunger, thirst, connection, comfort, rest) is not being met. All of you who, like me, are raising “hangry” kids know the fast-healing power of a solid snack!
Other times, however, big emotions are triggered simply by our choice of words.
- “This is NEVER going to end!”
- “Why do you ALWAYS argue with me!?”
- “I did not sign up to be a homeschool teacher – this is TERRIBLE!”
- “As hard as I try to stop yelling at my kids, I just can’t – it’s IMPOSSIBLE!’
When you use extreme words like those in the above examples, you are engaging in all or nothing thinking.
This way of thinking is not helpful because it triggers an emotional response, and getting caught up in emotions prevents you from being able to think clearly. When you aren’t able to think clearly, you are more likely to say or do something you later regret, like yell at your kids or make a snarky remark to your boss or neighbor.
The good news is that you can easily reduce your level of emotional reactivity by being aware of the language you use, and reducing the use of extreme words like these:
Rather than using extreme words, and triggering a big emotional response, be specific about what you are experiencing or what you need.
Alternatives to the above statements could sound something like this:
- “This has been going on longer than I had expected and I am feeling discouraged. I am going to call a friend for some encouragement.”
- “I don’t want to argue with you right now. Let’s take a minute to cool off and talk about it again in a little bit.”
- “Being a homeschool teacher is not something I enjoy. I am going look for some resources that can offer some help.
- “As hard as I try to stop yelling at my kids, I keep slipping up. Something isn’t working, so I am going to reach out and get some help and support.”
As with anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Try to catch yourself using an extreme word or statement each day and rephrase it to a more specific, less emotionally triggering statement.
You can help your children with this skill as well. Talk to them about this concept and help them understand how their words impact their emotions. You can even make a fun challenge out of it by agreeing to catch each other if one of you uses an extreme word! I have been known to pay my kids to help me break a bad habit, like saying naughty words. They want the money so they are motivated to pay attention to what I say, and I don’t want to lose, so I am more conscientious of the words I choose! As I’m writing this, I’m realizing I have slipped back into this bad habit – it might be time to pay them to catch me again!
If you would like some help explaining the concept of emotionally triggering words to your child, check out my social media and have them watch the video I made.
Be sure to like the video if you find it helpful!